Avicultural Magazine - October 2002

Avicultural Magazine
October 2002


It is increasingly difficult to add anything to the superlatives that have greeted the first six volumes of the Handbook of the Birds of the World. Now comes number seven - effectively the volume which propelled what I believe was to have been a 12 volume set into a 16 volume odyssey. Nothing wrong with that. The additional volumes are certain to make a further significant contribution to our knowledge of the world's birds.

This particularly spectacular volume deals with some of the world's most eye-catching and colourful families - Jacamars, Puffbirds, Barbets, Toucans, Honeyguides and Woodpeckers. It is in every sense a 'big book' in size, weight and content, including superlative colour plates and hundreds of colour photographs of birds in the wild. Its publication marks the conclusion of material about non-passerine species; Volume 8, to be published in 2003, will cover Broadbills, Asities, Ovenbirds, Woodcreepers, Antbirds, Antpittas, Tapalucos, Gnateaters, Cotingas and Manakins.

Volume 7 includes 317 outstanding colour photographs of birds in the wild taken by some of the world's leading wildlife photographers. The 70 colour plates have been painted by Hilary Burn, Clive Byers, Ian Lewington, Tim Worfolk, Albert Earl Gilbert, Ian Willis, Dave Nurney, Chris Rose, John Cox, Mark Hulme and Angels Jutglar. There are also 408 distribution maps and an informative 50-page foreword about extinct birds contributed by Errol Fuller.

The text is, as usual, impeccable, informative, scientifically accurate and remarkably readable - the latter a rare and utterly commendable feature of a work of this substance. For those unfamiliar with these volumes it is worth noting that each family is treated to a very comprehensive introduction which is arranged under the headings Systematics, Morphological Aspects, Habitat, General Habits, Voice, Food and Feeding, Breeding, Movements, Status and Conservation. These are illustrated with colour photographs. All species accounts are accompanied with colour plates which, where necessary, take account of sexual dimorphism and distinctive subspecies. The amount of detail contained in these narratives is remarkable. Concise but detailed information about habitat, food and feeding, breeding, status and conservation - plus a useful introductory paragraph which deals with taxonomic aspects - and despite the extremely high quality of colour plates, detailed descriptive notes are provided throughout.

So far as the photographs are concerned they at least match, and perhaps enhance, the high standards achieved in preceding volumes. Many are exciting, some are remarkable and one can only wonder what time and skill lies behind acquisition of the images. I particularly like a picture by Bernard van Elegem of a pair of Coppersmith Barbets Megalaima haemacephala indica photographed high in the branches of a dead tree in Thailand's Kaeng Krachan National Park.

Also worth a second look are three digitally coloured pictures of the now extinct Ivory-billed Woodpecker Campephilus principalis photographed in Louisiana during the 1930s by James T. Tanner who studied some of the last breeding pairs in the USA. There are many excellent pictures of flickers, piculets and woodpeckers at the nest, in some cases feeding well-grown young - but then, these birds have always tended to be amenable subjects as they cling tenaciously to the bark below their nest hole. There are many more superb photographs enhancing a further magnificent volume from Lynx Edicions.

As a gift to purchasers of Volume 7, Lynx Edicions are including with each volume a handy, plasticised index of all non-passerine groups. With pictures and a list of the names of all bird groups covered in HBW to date, this index makes it easy to locate exactly where in the seven volumes so far published any given non-passerine group is dealt with. A nice touch.

Handbook of the Birds of the World Volume 7, Jacamars to Woodpeckers, edited by J. del Hoyo, A. Elliot & J. Sargatal, is published by Lynx Edicions, Montseny, 8, E-08193 Bellaterra, Barcelona, Spain. It is priced £110. Further information, samples and ordering are available online at :www.hbw.com

by Frank Woolham